Howard County Board of Education members were expecting to spend the coming weeks weighing several renovation options for aging Mount Hebron High School. But after a stern warning about the condition of several other schools in the county, they will have additional pressures when they approve construction projects this year.
Board members were told Thursday night by Ken Roey, the system's executive director of facilities and management, that Atholton, Centennial and Hammond high schools are in about the same condition as Mount Hebron and need attention.
"It comes down to economics," said board member Larry Cohen. "We're going to have to look at that and look at the priorities, and look at decisions that will work for the schools. We are going to look at it carefully."
Board members were told that elevated construction costs of 60 percent and new fire code regulations would drive the costs at Mount Hebron past the $18.7 million that was initially estimated for the project.
Roey recommended that the board approve a $49.8 million plan that would include mechanical upgrades at the school, full systemic renovations and an expansion of the school's art, athletic and administrative offices.
Roey said the mechanical upgrades would correct the "maintenance nightmare" at the school.
Roey presented five options for the school that ranged in cost from $29.8 million for routine mechanical upgrades to $91.4 million for replacement of the school - with the exception of the ninth-grade wing, the school's second-story and the gymnasium.
The board is tentatively scheduled to approve the systemic design March 22. The board also will invite the Mount Hebron community to participate in an informal briefing next month. The exact date has not been determined.
Diane Mikulis, the board chairman, said the Mount Hebron renovation has been pending for years.
"We're in a situation in the county where we are at a pretty good situation with seats now. We are turning our attention elsewhere," Mikulis said. "It is very unfortunate that renovation is this expensive."
Mount Hebron students and staff members are upset about a sewage leak two weeks ago that started in several second-floor science rooms.
"[Students] think it is absolutely disgusting," Marci Zimmerman, a senior at the Ellicott City school, said Friday. "My parents were surprised that we stayed in school. It is so unsanitary."
Zimmerman has started a petition complaining about conditions at the school. So far, 728 students have signed the petition.
Staff members have written a letter of complaint to the school board. The letter details years of problems in the school.
"In the past five to seven years, there have been instances of raw sewage spurting out of the sink in the media center and the water [fountains] in the social studies hallway," the letter reads.
Roey said that several of the school's check valves failed Jan. 18.
"It is a mechanical failure that occurs," Roey said. "It was an isolated failure, and we've repaired it."
The cleanup took a couple of days, Roey said.
Mikulis said that she toured the school Thursday.
"Everything looks great," Mikulis said. "Nothing smells."
"As a student, I am in the classroom, and I can still smell traces of it," she said. "There is still that uncomfortable feeling of what went on in that room. Hebron is falling apart. It is such a loved school; we want to see it fixed."
Land swap approved
A land swap that is vital to a future school near a planned community in Ellicott City has been approved by the school system and St. John Baptist Church of Columbia.
The deal would exchange the school system's 10 acres at Tamar Drive and Route 175 in Columbia for the church's 40 acres at Marriottsville Road and U.S. 40.
"We have reached a tentative agreement," Roey said. "Now we have to move through the process to reach a final agreement."
The church land will be vital to a future school across the street from the Turf Valley area, while the school system land will accommodate the church's desire to build in Long Reach.
Although the amount that will be paid for the property has not been determined, the church Web site has said that the school system will need to pay "at least" $1.5 million to make up the difference in the size of the properties.
With no plans for school construction beyond this year, the school system has $5 million budgeted for land acquisition it knows will be needed.
The system also has asked the county Department of Planning and Zoning to reserve a 20-acre parcel in Turf Valley.
"We've had ongoing discussions with the developer," Roey said. "We hope to reach a mutually agreeable site as soon as possible."